Asia’s oceans demand our attention. Violent and fecund, they define life in the region: pushing the shore under the rush of tsunami; charging typhoon circulation and seasonal monsoons; feeding billions. And yet, Asian Studies remains largely beholden to a terrestrial view of the world that is at odds with the importance of the sea across all eras of the region’s history. Our “Oceanic Asia” round table convenes a diverse, multi-national, multi-disciplinary group to expand the scope of Asian Studies, drawing from a broader turn to the sea—the “new thalassology”—developing within our fields and in adjacent areas such as Pacific History and Indian Ocean Studies. Seeing the ocean as more than merely empty space between entrepots or nations elicits questions: How does thinking with and about and against the sea require us to change our practice as humanists and social scientists? Does an oceanic perspective change how we understand the trans- of “trans-national,” “trans-regional” or other scalar frames? What interests are unsettled by a maritime approach, especially within the ambit of Asian Studies?
Each panelist has 6 minutes—timed by the turn of an hourglass—to present their argument. Prasejit Duara uses the ocean to think beyond the nation-state into a space between material historical process and concepts of historical time; Alexis Dudden uses the hot history of the East China Sea to show how law can fracture a sea; Stefan Hübner argues that an “oceanic industrial revolution” annexed the world’s seas as terrestrial hinterlands; Satsuki Takahashi uses multispecies ethnography to decenter our understanding of the Fukushima crisis; Brett L. Walker tracks the militarization of Pacific ecologies in the wake of an Imperial Japanese destroyer.
Each presenter will post a précis to a public website before the panel—allowing all in the room to enter discussion with key concepts and shared knowledge. We will also provide access to an online/cellular Q&A tool of the sort used in many classrooms. This simple app aggregates real-time audience input—focusing discussion on shared themes or points of disagreement rather than privileging the very first questions asked. It also helps ensure that diverse voices can be heard.
The presenters have agreed to post *draft* essays on the following site in order to deepen conversation and spur debate: https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/oceanicasia